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What About The Tariffs?

It was a question that reverberated through the summer trade show halls, in every meeting between retailers and vendors, around water coolers, at the gas pumps. Everywhere, really.

‘What do we do about the tariffs?’

As if there would be an absolute answer to resolve all the uncertainty and calm all the nerves. There isn’t.

There is no question this is an alarming situation, especially for independent retailers.

What we now know is hoping the Chinese import tariff threat wouldn’t become a Chinese import tariff reality wasn’t the best move by retailers and their suppliers.

The best move a year ago, with the trade war in its earliest stages, was to begin planning as if tariffs were inevitable. And the best move now, despite postponements and initiatives by China’s government to ease its factories’ costs, is to plan as if the next tariff increase is inevitable.

Vendors, for the most part, are doing their best to trim expenses and rearrange supply chains to absorb some of the tariffs. Even so, retailers of all sizes, despite their protestations, have little choice but to accept some level of price increases. And they have little choice but to pass some of that to their consumers.

There might be some solace in the thought that every other legitimate retail competitor confronts the same price-increasing concession. But it’s still unnerving for independent retailers, many already squeezed, to have to raise prices in a marketplace of Internet-enabled pricing transparency.

Nobody can predict how long the punitive tariffs will last, or how much they might be rolled back, if at all.

Wishing for the trade war to end won’t help.

This is a call to recommit to the business principles and the genuine advantages that built the independent specialty retail business and has helped buffer it against the endless barrage of threats through the years.

Embrace your greatest assets — premium selection, knowledge and service.

Be an astute, selective merchant. Negotiate fiercely, yet fairly. Train your staff thoroughly and endlessly. Create a sense of in-store theater and discovery. Run more demos and tastings. Blanket shoppers with knowledge and hands-on service.

Work hard. And have fun.

Independent storeowners shouldn’t need the threat of tariffs to reinforce such core values. A fundamental objective of such retailers is to convince shoppers to appreciate why some products and some experiences and some store visits are worth more.

‘What do we do about the tariffs?’

The answer won’t be easy. But it might be right in front of you.



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